Marco Rubio and the Challenge to Hillary Clinton

In a recent article in the New York Times, Jeremy Peters reported on the growing fears of some Democrats -- even within the Clinton camp -- over facing Marco Rubio in the 2016 campaign. They see several powerful forces at work in Rubio's candidacy -- his youth and his Hispanic heritage, not to mention his charismatic personality.

Patti Solis Doyle, who ran Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign and was the first female Hispanic to run a presidential campaign, was quoted in the article as saying Rubio "is a powerful speaker," adding "He is young. He is very motivational. He has a powerful story."

Rubio has two strong cards to play if he faces Clinton in the election. First and most important is the generational divide. Rubio, at age 43, can argue that he represents the future of American politics, while Clinton, at age 69, represents the past. Since the Democrats have relied on younger voters for their support in recent presidential elections, even a modest percentage of young voters defecting to the Rubio camp would be a serious threat to Democratic prospects.

The other obvious advantage is his Hispanic heritage. Again, Democrats have relied on the loyalty of Hispanic voters -- and the Republican hard-line against immigration reform -- to keep Hispanics solidly in their camp. However, as Doyle points out, Rubio "could have the ability to nip away at the numbers for the Democrats." That could mean trouble for Clinton, especially in the crucial swing state of Florida, Rubio's home territory.

Rubio understands his natural advantages over Clinton and has wisely exploited them in recent days. Following the old adage in politics that one should attack an opponent's strength, Rubio proposed a tax plan aimed at helping middle-class families instead of the traditional Republican approach of lowering taxes for high earners. This proposal very cleverly provides a benefit for most Americans and addresses the income inequality issue more concretely than the populist "tax the rich" proposals.

The conventional wisdom among Democrats is that Rubio's departures from Republican orthodoxy will doom him in the primaries and that if he moves to the center in his policies, he will never get the Republican nomination. This is a curious strategy for Democrats since it relies on the Republican right to rescue Clinton from a formidable opponent. It also is likely wrong. Many Republicans are tired of losing presidential elections and of being steamrolled by Tea Party and other ultra-conservative forces. Even the ranks of the hard right are being weakened by competing, more moderate forces.

In the meantime, Democrats are looking in the rear-view mirror and hoping that the past is prelude to the 2016 election. On the left, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are trumpeting a populist platform that resonates with many Americans but has very little to offer in the way of concrete, practicable solutions to the pressing problems of average families. And Clinton has yet to present a credible reason why she should be president or how her policies would address the challenges that we face as a nation.

Barack Obama was presented as a transformational candidate when he ran in 2008. He was young, charismatic and promised change. Although his presidency ran aground on the realities of the political system, the hunger for change is just as great today as it was in 2008. Unless Democrats can offer the hope of real change with a candidate that inspires voters to believe in her, they may be fighting an uphill battle the White House. And Democrats cannot rely on the Republican right -- the Tea Party, the Koch brothers or the rest of the ultra-conservative gang -- to deliver the White House to the Democratic nominee. As the old saying goes, they have to "earn it."